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A Bookish afternoon coming to the Headwaters Arts Fall Festival

By Constance Scrafield

Once again BookLore, under the wisdom of founder/owner Nancy Frater, is bringing three fine authors together in a “Bookish Afternoon” as the finale to the Headwaters Arts Fall Festival, which is running now until Oct. 2 at the Alton Mill Arts Centre.

BookLore's presentation of three authors is set for Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2:00 p.m.

“It's been a long time [since we participated with Headwaters],” Ms. Frater commented. “We used to do an author's night as part of it.”

The good news is that the authors are back to the festival, once again moderated by Bernadette Hardaker. This year is an exciting welcome return to three authors, Bianca Marais, Eva Stachniak and Steve Burrows, all of whom have previously brought their books to Orangeville and other local venues. They will be seated under the beautiful tent covering the annex at the Alton Mill. While it is otherwise an open space, there are heating lamps as necessary to keep the venue warm and the ambience as fun filled as always when the authors come to visit.

The books being discussed are quite varied and for Bianca Marais a complete digression from her first two novels, Hum if You Don't Know the Words and If you want to Make God Laugh, told about the Soweto Uprisings during the time of Nelson Mandela.

This time, she is treating us to a comic fantasy, The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, about a coven of octogenarian witches and their distillery business.

BookLore calls this book “pure escapism, elegant and charming – also hilarious.”

As we learned during an interview some years ago, when Eva Stachniak was here with a previous book, she came to Canada from Poland in 1981 as a post graduate student to do her PhD in English literature at McGill University in Montreal. It was an exchange arrangement paid by a scholarship awarded to her through the Canadian Embassy in Poland. She travelled to Canada with her husband and her son. Even with her PhD finished in 1988, Ms. Stachniak wanted to use her talents to write the old Eastern European stories she knew.

She has brought her historical novels here, The Winter Palace, The Chosen Maiden and Empress of the Night. Her latest historical novel is School of Mirrors, placed in the days and times of Louis XV of France. This is a tale of a mother and daughter trained as courtesans in 18th Century France, an era of many strange times and terrors in France.

Says Nancy Frater, “Eva writes wonderful historical novels; wonderful historical detail.”

It is grand to see Steve Burrows back with another of his “Birder-Murder Mystery” series. They stand alone in the murder mystery field with Domenic Jejeune, a Canadian disciplined police hero and a bird watcher, working in Great Britain. 

Mr. Burrows is bringing his seventh book, A Foreboding of Petrels, a bird found in the Antarctic, which takes his hero on suspension from the police only to discover an unexplained death at an Antarctic research base. Question is: who are the regular villains in such a remote place?

Steve Burrows books have all the rigour of a thrilling murder mystery but charm as well as he sources the birds for hints and even evidence of a sort. For bird lovers and everyone else, these books are fun.

We caught up with Bianca Marais on her way to the airport in the States, coming back to Toronto.

“[A coven] of octogenarian witches have fallen behind on their payments.” she said of The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, “this [is] all about how they get back with the help of a 15 -year-old TikToker, who is eager to bring down the patriarchy.”

During Covid., Toronto was shut down and so dark, she told us, “I decided that I was going to write something really fun. I'd never written fantasy before, so I was tackling a new genre.”

“It was such a joy to write,” she said and the magic “honestly felt as though these witches were deciding who to choose to write their story and I was just so glad they picked me – I was having so much fun with them.”

Ms. Marais' book has hit best-seller lists across the country and in the US.

“People just want a fantasy read; it is being well received,” she commented. “It still carries with it the more serious issues like identity, ageism, feminism, and sexual and gender identity.”

During her interview with the Citizen, Ms. Marais went on to talk about being very busy with her writing podcast as well, telling us, “I am getting back to putting my bum in the chair [to write] but the podcast was meant to be something to help new writers and we've had one million downloads. We've got a retreat this coming weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I'd never listened to a podcast before.”

Yet she had been thinking about how to reach so many people and tell them “you have to write the best book you can. Then you have to learn the business end of it – how to land an agent.”

She has two literary agents that work with her and they are hearing from listeners now that they have landed an agent and got their books published from listening to her podcast.

She said, “We don't make any money. This is a labour of love. We just have to charge for the retreat to cover the costs.”

Bianca Marais' life here in Canada has been “amazing. We never could believe how amazing. I've been able to write these books and I have this amazing career.”

As for coming back to Orangeville, “I love the area – it's so literary. And I adore Nancy Frater. She could invite me to the opening of an envelope and I'd be there.”

Tickets are available for a Bookish Afternoon at the Headwaters Arts Fall Festival at the Alton Mill Arts Centre on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2:00 p.m. are available at BookLore and by visiting

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